Have some time to kill? Don’t want to spend money flying to Laos? Or hell, just like the idea of enjoying the journey? Well then this is your read! We’re here to tell you all about the slow boat to Luang Prabang. All aboard (corny line that had to absolutely be inserted)!
Slow Boat to Luang Prabang, Laos from Thailand
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About The Slow Boat Ride to Luang Prabang
The journey takes 2 days in total. You start from the border town in Chiang Khong in Thialand and finish on the banks of the Mekong River just outside of the Luang Prabang city center.
The 2-day slow boat with transfer to the border town of Chiang Khong was about $40 USD per person (April 2017). The $40USD also in included our one night’s stay in a small Laotian village we docked at for the night.
Booking Your Slow Boat Ride From Thailand to Laos
We started our journey from Chiang Rai and booked the 2-day slow boat ride from Thailand to Laos through our accommodation, Mercy Hostel.
We booked our trip 2 days prior to our departure and had no issues securing a spot. For those of you that like to “wing it” and just show up to buy a boat tickets on site the day of, be warned! This trip was packed and a handful of backpackers were left on the banks of the river as the boat was full.
Getting to Thailand’s Border (Chiang Khong)
From Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, you can catch a early morning ride to the Thai border town of Chang Khong. The ride takes about 1.5 – 2 hours from Chiang Rai. It will be longer if you are coming from Chiang Mai.
After the 2-hour-ish ride, you will arrive in Chiang Khong, the Thai border town where you will cross into Laos.
Border Crossing Tips (Chiang Khong)
Make sure you have snacks, cash, water and alcohol (if so desired) with you. Both days are long and lunch is not provided on the boat. Buying items in Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai is significantly cheaper than buying them in Chiang Khong (Thai Side) or in Huay Xai (Laos Side).
Also, make sure you have $35 USD for your Laos Visa ($35 was the price in April 2017). Border officials may give you a hard time about taking Thai Bhat so to avoid any hassle at the border, be sure to have your US Dollars ready to go.
Also, try and have the exact amount, you’d be surprised that people seem to miraculously run out of change :). We got screwed out of a few dollars when we crossed the border, so happily learn from our mistakes!
Border Crossing From Thailand Into Huay Xai, Laos
After you’ve made it to Chiang Khong, you’ll get stamped out of Thailand and you’ll board a bus that will drive you over “Friendship Bridge.” Once you cross the bridge, give yourself a big pat on the back, Welcome to Laos!
Word to the wise: KEEP TRACK OF YOUR BAGS! We had a few friends get into a little argument with the locals. A few local guys offered to carry our friends bags – and by carrying them we mean carrying them a mere 15 feet – and expected money for “their hard work”. In all the chaos of bordering crossings, just be mindful of your things and know that if anyone offers help, they are looking for money.
You’ll get off the bus in Huay Xai, fill out some visa paperwork, pay for your Visa (in US Dollars) and get stamped into the country. It was a fairly seamless process, if we do say so ourselves. From here, the company we booked with picked us up and guided us through to the waiting tuk-tuk trucks.
Boarding The Slow Boat from Thailand to Luang Prabang
From Huay Xai Immigration we were brought to the “docks” where our river boat was awaiting us.
The boat was basic, no AC or fans, but the seats themselves (old car seats) were fairly comfortable. Not too much leg room but all in all, a comfortable fit. And if you really needed more room, the seats aren’t bolted down so you can adjust accordingly!
SEATING TIP: By no circumstances should you willing sit by the engine. You will get smoked out and fumigated to death. Get to the boats as early as you can and claim your seat. Fight to the death if you must – but do not sit by the engine room.
Slow Boat From Thailand to Laos – Day 1
Our first day, we sailed along the Mekong with awesome views for about 8 hours. The ride is pretty but boring. You have loads of time to take a nap, catch up on journaling or do whatever you damn well please.
After 8 hours and as the sun was beginning to set, we reached our destination for the night, Pakbeng, at about 5:00pm that evening. Pakbeng is a small Laos village that caters to the overnighters from the Mekong River Cruise.
We settled into our accommodation and had an awesome meal alongside the river.
Slow Boat From Thailand to Laos – Day 2
Set your alarm to give you plenty of time to eat breakfast and get to the docks early to again, get your seat as far away from the engine as possible.
FYI – you don’t have reserved seats, so if you sleep in you may be stuck with a “3rd class seat”!
Day 2 is pretty much just like Day 1. You sail for about 8 hours and are offered great views of the river. It’s super chill and can get boring at times. Make sure you have your podcasts updated, a good book ready or a group of friends who like to drink and play cards to help you pass the time.
You see a lot of stunning views like these…
Arriving in Luang Prabang
Around 5:30pm, you arrive in Luang Prabang. You’ll quickly learn the port is far from the city center and a taxi ride is really your only option unless you want to walk a good walk (an hour if not more).
Everyone that gets off the boat, climbs a bit of a hill and heads to the taxi stand where you all will pay the same price to get a ticket into town.
These tickets are non-negotiable, believe us we tried.
You wait for your tuk tuk to fill up and off you go! It’s about a 20 minute ride or so till the tuk tuk drops you off in the city center, not at your own hotel. So, try to plan your accommodation as close to the city center as possible so you can walk versus having to get another cab to take you to your place.
Travel days have their ups and downs but we must say, we were really glad we did this trip. It’s a great way to relax and see river life unfold in front of you. If you have the time, we would really suggest the slow boat to Luang Prabang.
For The Budget Conscious: From a pool to shared and private rooms and epic location, Little Freedom Friendlys Place is a a great spot to stay while in Luang Prabang.
For The Luxury Inclined: Maison Dalabua is surrounded by lotus ponds, has amazing Laotian-styled modern rooms and an exceptional staff. It’s impossible to not have an amazing stay while at Maison Dalabua.
For Something In Between: Location, location, location. Mekong Sunset View Hotel is walkable to all of Luang Prabang’s must see attractions. Also, not to mentions the rooms are great and some have balconies that overlook the river.
For more places to stay in Luang Prabang, you can check out the latest places and prices here.
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– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stüs)